Nadine Sablotny

Managing Director HCAT+ e.V., Hamburg Centre of Aviation Training

Nadine Sablotny: a mediator between different worlds

Hamburg Aviation Series "Hamburg's Pilots" - Episode 5

Each morning, as Nadine Sablotny walks through the door at her new job, she is joined by a group of smartphone-wielding apprentices, a university professor, a trainer from Airbus, two young doctoral candidates with five aeronautical engineering students in tow, a teacher from the vocational college, an ambitious student trainee from Lufthansa Technik, a building services technician in a hurry, and a horde of noisy eight grade pupils from the Wandsbek neighbourhood school.

"Yes, it does sometimes feel like they all come through the door with me, but in the end, getting as many participants as possible to sit down at one table," explains the youthful Managing Director of the HCAT+ Association. All the threads that make up the many issues and projects related to training and personnel development within Hamburg's aviation sector come together on her desk. "Ultimately, the entire aviation industry in Hamburg and the region shares one goal: to attract and keep the best specialist personnel so that we can stay at the top into the future."

The HCAT is unique - worldwide.

Since 2011, these various issues have been spatially united at a single location and platform: the HCAT building in the Hamburg borough of Borgfelde. From the outside, the concrete building, adjacent to the G15 State Vocational College centre seems nondescript. Inside, however, is one of the most up-to-date education and training facilities to be found anywhere in the international aviation sector, equipped with a genuine aircraft fuselage, aircraft cabins, workshops, and lecture halls. The colleges, training companies, and universities of Hamburg make joint use of the infrastructure for their practical training. This is unique - worldwide.

Hamburg's Pilots

  • Episode 005
Nadine Sablotny - cc-by Lukas Kaestner
Nadine Sablotny
Managing Director
HCAT+ e.V., Hamburg Centre of Aviation Training

What is new about the forming of HCAT+?

What's new is the HCAT+ Association, established at the end of 2014, with its management office located within the building. The association not only supports and coordinates the ongoing projects within the building's four walls, but also all other training projects throughout the region. Gathered at the HCAT+ table are ten partners who comprehensively represent Hamburg's educational environment, encompassing the political, university, and industrial participants. Major players like Airbus, smaller players such as the HECAS association, institutions including the city-state's economic authority, and universities such as the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, with its campus just a stone's throw a way, and the Hamburg University of Technology, at home on the other side of the Elbe.

There are always matters to be discussed at this common table. "We talk about needs that are arising in the training area, or about how new developments need to effect change in the educational system. I make note of where action is needed, look to see if there are already solutions available in the marketplace, and establish new contacts," explains Sablotny. She continues, "The better we all know each other, the more useful we can be for one another." The association's slogan, "Education. Commerce. Innovation" describes what has become an interwoven and indivisible unit in the Managing Director's daily life.

Career orientation from as early as 8th grade

One example of cooperation in practice is the Career orientation - routes into aviation programme, providing school pupils from as early as the 8th grade with the opportunity to gain practical experience of aeronatucial career paths. Apprentices from Airbus and Lufthansa Technik talk about their jobs and their tasks and responsibilities. The pupils then have the chance to try things out for themselves on the practical days in the HCAT building, and later on they can complete work experience at Airbus and Lufthansa Technik, gaining an insight into production processes. At the end of the programme is the prospect of an apprenticeship. "After each event, the pupils are free to decide whether a career in aviation is still of interest. The collaboration of all participants across the board means that there is already a solid basis for making such a decision as early as the 9th grade," Sablotny explains.

Her own interest in flying started at that age, if not earlier. The 30-year-old joined Hamburg's aviation industry seven years ago. She became involved with the aviation cluster as Project Assistant for the Crystal Cabin Award. After a position in marketing with an aviation industry supplier, Sablotny returned to Hamburg Aviation in 2011 as Manager of International Affairs, looking after Europe's network of aviation locations, the European Aerospace Cluster Partnership (EACP), with more than 30 members in 14 countries. "EACP taught me to be flexible and consistent. Visions are important, but in heterogenous networks we can only move forward in small, concrete steps," she says. "The education sector has its very own challenges, rules, and constraints. Right now, I'm learning to understand these. There is a reason that we talk about the 'world of education' and the 'world of industry'. Integrating these two worlds is no easy task." Sablotny reflects for just a moment, then adds with a laugh, "but easy would be boring, wouldn't it?"

"I am already thinking beyond the boundaries of the aviation industry."

A woman in her early 30s as Managing Director is as unusual in the "world of education" as it is in the "world of industry", and especially in such a male-dominated field as aviation. But Sablotny came to the role with a broad network of established contacts in the industry from past projects, and the community know her as an open and lively networker. This is a good starting point for a job that involves bringing so many different players together at table, and all the more so because Sablotny is already thinking beyond the boundaries of the aviation industry. "Over the long-term, I want to involve other industries in our projects, too, industries that are not part of our network yet but deal with similar issues: energy, logistics, automobile manufacturing, and even such less obvious sectors as media and art. At the end of the day, everybody is thinking about the best possible ways to value, appreciate, and develop employees, and about lifelong learning. For me, that is what the 'plus' in the association's name is about."

The physical proximity of various groups is what makes the HCAT building such a special place. In the long term, this will be reflected across the spectrum of activities in the education and training sector. "We have the chance to create a completely new generation in Hamburg, where apprentices and students cooperate with one another across the boundaries of their disciplines at such an early stage that network mindsets are a matter of course later on! We don't just need digital natives. We also need 'Cooperation natives'!"

"We don't just need digital natives. We also need 'Cooperation natives'!"

International delegations at HCAT have become so frequent that they are almost passing each other coathangers at the cloakroom, and yet many regional players are not yet aware of the training marvel here at their doorstep. "Germany is already well-positioned with its cooperative university education model, and HCAT has made great strides in the education sector," says Sablotny. "And yet we still differentiate between the 'world of education' and the 'world of industry'. In Borgfelde, though, we've been demonstrating how it all belongs together for some time already."